Brown County sheriff candidates: time for social media

Staff photo by Fritz Busch Brown County sheriff candidates, from left, Jason Fairbairn, Jeff Hohensee and Matt Ibberson participate in a New Ulm League of Women Voters forum at City Hall Aug. 2.

NEW ULM — A roomful of people listened to four Brown County Sheriff candidates agree on most subjects at a 90-minute forum in City Hall Aug. 2.

Sponsored by the New Ulm League of Women Voters, the forum included questions submitted in person at the event and others phoned in to a local number.

Regarding enforcing laws fairly, New Ulm Police Department Senior Investigator Jeff Hohensee said he has worked with the New Ulm Human Rights Commission in the past and he’d call on them again to talk about respect and equality to his deputies if elected sheriff.

“A handshake and a few words of advice are good, especially to those in the narcotics community because we have a lot of repeat offenders,” Hohensee said.

Brown County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Jason Seidl said he considered mental health issues the biggest concern for residents.

“We’re working with Human Services, helping people get the right service,” Seidl said.

“Look at the Brown County jail roster,” Hohensee said. “Most people are there for sex and drug-related crimes. The Drug Task Force (DTF) was at its best when I ran it. We’ll have weekly meetings and set short, mid and long-term goals. I do criminal sexual assaults for the City of New Ulm. Those cases are near and dear to me. We need to treat them collaboratively.”

Brown County Deputy Jason Fairbairn said mental illness often leads to sex trafficking and drugs.

“We need to reduce recidivism (repeat offenders) and get people to quit turning to alcohol and drugs,” Fairbairn said.

Former Brown County deputy Matt Ibberson said it’s important to educate parents on triggers.

“Sometimes, they’re blind to it,” Ibberson said. “You can set up training to deter a lot of crime.”

Seidl accused Hohensee of over-running the DTF budget in 2011.

Hohensee denied doing so, saying he applied for grants including a $275,000 grant when he expanded the DTF with two more employees and added the Lower Sioux Reservation near Morton to its coverage area.

“The DTF was at its best when I ran it,” Hohensee said.

In addition, Hohensee said the sheriff’s office needs to be a role model for police departments in smaller towns.

“Police need to come to the sheriff’s office for help and its experience. That has not happened the last few years,” Hohensee said. “They ask the New Ulm Police Department for help. I’ve helped them complete cases.”

Seidl said he just had a request from another agency for help.

“We help everybody,” Seidl said.

Ibberson said he felt the sheriff’s office worked very well with police.

“I’ve helped police departments when they get calls,” Ibberson said. “I think cross training is a very good thing.”

Fairbairn said he has helped Sleepy Eye and Comfrey Police on a number of cases including deaths.

“I’ve gone to Jeff (Hohensee) for help,” Fairbairn said. “They’re very capable officers. It’s an open door.”

Candidates agreed that Drug and Vets Court are good things.

Seidl said Drug Court is tougher and has better services because it follows people all the way through.

Hohensee said he was on the initial Drug Court team.

“People in Drug Court stay sober because they’re checked on five to six times a week,” Hohensee said. “But when they get out, they’re only checked on five or six times a year. We need to correct that mistake.”

Hohensee said Vets Court mentors help people through mental illness and addiction.

Regarding welfare fraud, Fairbairn said he’d talk to Brown County Human Services (BCHS) about it.

“I’ve heard of people with two addresses, one in New Ulm, another in Hennepin County,” Fairbairn said. “If the BCHS workload is too much, we may be able to add an investigator.”

Ibberson said Brown County has a great human services department, but there are grants to add investigators.

“I think it’s important,” Ibberson said. “I hear about people wrongfully getting assistance on the street.”

Hohensee said Brown County Welfare Fraud Investigator Preston Cowing has trained investigators in surrounding counties and does a “fabulous” job.

Seidl agreed.

In addition, Seidl said he would not hold people on an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) warrant without a judge’s signature.

“We notify ICE about possible illegal aliens,” Seidl said.

Hohensee said ICE is inconsistent about wanting aliens.

“Sometimes they want them, sometimes they don’t,” Hohensee said. “I’d like to see them develop a policy at the state level.”

Fairbairn asked what recourse people have when illegal immigrants commit crimes and hurt people.

All candidates agreed the TRIAD program needs to be emphasized more to educate seniors, vulnerable adults and anyone else about scams, despite the fact that sheriff’s staff continues to talk to people and groups about scams.

All candidates agreed social media should be used more.

“I use it as a tool to solve crimes,” Hohensee said. “It’s amazing from an investigative standpoint.”

Voters will cut the sheriffs candidate field from four to two in the Aug. 14 primary election.

Fritz Busch can be emailed at